You may be traveling on an extended trip, career break, or gap year but no matter where you’re going or for how long, the simple act of heading out on the road won’t fix any predicaments you’ve left behind. Traveling doesn’t make your problems go away, it just brings them along for the ride. Although your next trip likely won’t solve dilemmas directly, vagabonding can redirect your focus in unique ways, preparing you to tackle life crises of all sizes.
Meeting New People Allows You To Re-Invent Yourself
Our personal perceptions of who we are base themselves on how others see us, in a process sociologists call identity negotiation. The theory is an intricate one, but basically we have ideas of what our personality traits are, basing those perceived traits on the cues we get when interacting with others. Our brains are wired to make us feel we’re right all the time, so we tend to reaffirm what we others think of us [PDF]. That’s part of the reason you can be a grouchy, pessimistic person in one relationship yet happy-go-lucky in the other.
These emotional feedback loops are difficult to break but when you meet new people traveling, it’s an opportunity to start a fresh “negotiation”. Your perceived flaws (e.g. shyness) – and the problems you associate with them back home – don’t have to be on display in a new group. Others seeing the more outgoing side of you, for example, will only help reinforce the little extrovert inside.
The perceptions we carry about others and how they see us, waivers with time (due to a lack of reinforcement). That’s part of the reason everyone seems so “new” to us upon returning home after a long trip. Until they do something to remind us of our previous concept of them and remember “that’s the same old Benjamin!” or, “wow Curzon, you’ve really changed!”
Distractions Are Good For Creativity
Focusing on a problem for too long is often counterproductive, since our active memories fatigue easily, get lazy, and then have us banging on a solution that doesn’t quite fit to the obstacle at hand. Our brains however actively search out solutions to problems even when we’re not concentrating on them, according to Incognito by David Eagleman. Those “ah-ha!” moments we’ve all experienced were simply our subconscious delivering ideas to our conscious minds, humbling not taking credit for all the work it did.
Not focusing opens up your mind to considering all sorts of new solutions – and few things in life are as delightfully diverting as climbing an Ecuadorian volcano or figuring out that Bulgarians nod backwards. The occasional beer doesn’t hurt either.
Deadlines May Work In Your Favor
Although their arrival can be stressful, in small doses, the stress deadlines produce creates the right hormonal cocktail for productivity. Chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline sharpen your senses, giving you faster reaction times to tiger attacks and the occasional life-challenge. Deadlines let you know when you have to get things done and the book by the same name points out that they let you know when you’re running behind.
So, even if your problems are waiting for your after your next trip, your journey may have just given you enough neural ammunition to tackle them effectively.